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Japan’s Next Premier Should Endorse a Sanctions Law

Global Magnitsky-Style Act Would Help Curb Rights Abuses Abroad

Myanmar residents in Japan stage a protest rally in Tokyo on August 1, 2021.  © 2021 Kyodo/AP Images

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will hold its party presidential election on September 29. The winner will almost certainly become Japan's next prime minister.

Four candidates – two women and two men – are running: the former foreign affairs and defense minister, Taro Kono; the former foreign minister, Fumio Kishida; the former communications minister, Sanae Takaichi; and the former internal affairs and communications minister, Seiko Noda.

Japan has long been one of Asia’s rights-respecting democracies. But despite widespread abuses and suffering in the region, successive governments have done little to promote respect for human rights or democracy in its foreign policy. Whether it’s severely oppressed Uyghurs or Tibetans in China, people in Myanmar standing up against the military junta, or Cambodians taking great risks for free and fair elections, Japanese leaders almost invariably side with those in power over the population.

Japan should reverse course.

In recent years, many countries, including in the European Union, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom have enacted so-called global Magnitsky-style laws, which impose sanctions on human rights violators abroad with visa bans and asset freezes.

Japan is the only country among the Group of Seven (G7) economic powers that does not have such a law. But in an encouraging sign, elected officials in Japan are now discussing it. In May, the Nonpartisan Parliamentary Association for Reconsidering Human Rights Diplomacy issued  a draft bill outline, which would allow for the freezing of assets and the denial of entry into Japan of serious violators of international human rights law. Also in May, the LDP’s foreign policy committee’s human rights diplomacy team recommended that outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga start discussing the introduction of such a law.

Ahead of the LDP elections, Human Rights Watch and other organizations asked all four candidates to commit to introducing such a law if they became LDP president.            

Fumio Kishida, Sanae Takaichi, and Seiko Noda said they would, while Taro Kono would not commit one way or the other.

Japan’s next prime minister, the LDP, and all Japanese political parties should endorse the introduction of a global Magnitsky-style law so that Japan can promote greater respect for human rights around the globe.

<Details of the responses from the candidates>

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